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Mississippi lawmakers create lottery to fund highways

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers created a lottery to fund highways, increased state transportation aid for cities and counties, and divided $700 million in oil spill damages during a five-day special session that wrapped up Wednesday.

The Legislature concluded the session with a 99-10 House vote in favor of Senate Bill 2002 , which sends 70 percent of economic damages being paid by BP PLC to Mississippi’s six southernmost counties. The measure also includes more than $100 million in earmarked projects for local areas.

Lawmakers earlier agreed to send 35 percent of the tax on internet sales to cities and counties for infrastructure, with Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signing that bill moments after lawmakers adjourned. They also agreed to create a lottery that will direct up to $80 million a year to the state Department of Transportation.

“Any one of those pieces of legislation would have been historic. Any one of those would have been monumental in helping move this great state forward,” Bryant said Wednesday as Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined him in the Capitol rotunda.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, declared: “The winners today are the citizens of the state of Mississippi.”

Bryant called the session last week as he declared the problems plaguing the state’s transportation infrastructure a crisis. He has been forced to close hundreds of county bridges.

Legislative leaders predict the bills passed during the session will inject more than $200 million a year into transportation on an ongoing basis. They also agreed to borrow $300 million, with $250 million going to an emergency bridge fund, which could help reopen some of the 435 local bridges closed as of Wednesday. However, the state Department of Transportation has said it needs another $400 million a year to keep the highway system from deteriorating, and the session’s action will only provide a fraction of that money.

“We passed three critically important bills,” Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, told senators as they adjourned.

On one of those, the tax diversion, Reeves largely agreed with a position that Gunn staked out during the regular session months ago. The lottery bill was pushed most heavily by Bryant, although lawmakers amended the original proposal after complaints that the proposed Mississippi Lottery Corp. would be overly secretive and powerful.

The House debate on the oil spill money was the final act of the session. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, a Republican from Columbus, announced leaders would turn back all amendments, a position they maintained despite efforts to divide the money among all counties based on population, or provide some money for the 19 counties that didn’t get any of the 128 special projects that made up most the bill.

Lawmakers have already spent $52.4 million of the $750 million BP is paying to make up for lost tax revenue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of that money has been spent on coastal projects.

With about $100 million in the bank, legislators agreed to take another $60 million for earmarked projects in Senate Bill 2002, combining it with a $50 million pot from the borrowing they approved earlier. The six southernmost counties are in line to get 70 percent of the overall settlement, including about $27 million of what’s in the bank, plus $30 million from 15 yearly payments of $40 million, beginning in 2019.

The Mississippi Development Authority, advised by people appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, will recommend grants from the coast money for lawmakers to approve each year. Lawmakers themselves will decide how to spend the remaining $10 million a year.

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The Nation

Love’s, its customers raise more than $3.75 million for children’s hospitals

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Love’s showed additional support for CMN Hospitals on National Coffee Day, which took place September 29-30 during the store campaign. To honor the day, all hot beverages were discounted to $1, with sales going to CMN Hospitals. (Courtesy: LOVE'S)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and its customers raised more than $3.75 million for sick and injured children through its five-week store campaign to raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In the 20th year of the campaign, the company surpassed its goal of $3.6 million and set a company record for the most money raised during a campaign.

“We are so thankful to our employees and customers who not only donate at our stores, but who also go out of their way to raise money for sick and injured children in creative ways,” said Jenny Love Meyer, vice president of communications for Love’s. “Each year, we enjoy seeing communities come together for this effort and we couldn’t be prouder to have raised over $3.75 million for this year’s campaign.”

From August 26-September 30, customers could purchase Miracle Balloons, round up to the nearest dollar at registers or pumps or participate in events like 5k runs or fishing tournaments to donate money to CMN Hospitals.

Love’s showed additional support for CMN Hospitals on National Coffee Day, which took place September 29-30 during the store campaign. To honor the day, all hot beverages were discounted to $1, with sales going to CMN Hospitals.

“We are excited about the results of this year’s Love’s fundraising campaign,” said John Lauck, president and CEO of CMN Hospitals. “Not only did 2019 mark a 20-year milestone of partnership between Love’s and CMN Hospitals but more exciting, Love’s also crossed $31 million in donations to help sick and injured children treated in our hospitals across the U.S.”

Of the 170 CMN Hospitals throughout North America, 107 benefit from Love’s annual campaign.

 

 

 

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The Nation

Average price of gallon of diesel increase half a cent

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The price for the week ending October 14 was 34.3 cents lower than the comparable week in 2018. (The Trucker file photo)

WASHINGTON — The average price of a gallon of on-highway diesel increase four tenths of one cent to $3.051 for the week ending October 14, according to the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy.

Normally posted on Monday of each week, the average price chart was released Tuesday because the federal government was closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday.

All but two regions of the country posted increases led by a 1.9 cent increase in the Rocky Mountain states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado).

The New England states (Maine, Vermont, Hew Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) was the only region showing a decline at five tenths of one cent.

The price for the week ending October 14 was 34.3 cents lower than the comparable week in 2018.

 

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DeFazio asks IG to investigate reports of Chao’s conflicts of interest

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In requesting an investigation of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Rep. Peter DeFazio cites newly-obtained information from a recent media report that suggested Chao used her office to give preferential treatment to organizations and projects in Kentucky where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently seeking re-election. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is requesting an investigation into Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her reported conflicts of interest.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., made the request in a letter to Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III.

The letter, sent October 11, cites newly-obtained information from a recent media report that suggested Chao used her office to give preferential treatment to organizations and projects in Kentucky where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is currently seeking re-election.

Politico reported that 25% of Secretary Chao’s meetings with local officials between January 2017 and March 2018 were with individuals from Kentucky.

DeFazio said the report noted that requests for meetings with Chao are typically forwarded from McConnell’s office to Chao’s chief of staff, who previously worked on McConnell’s Senate campaign, DeFazio wrote.

The Office of the Secretary of Transportation took exception to DeFazio efforts.

DeFazio said the Politico report followed an earlier report that Chao had asked her chief of staff to serve as an intermediary between her office and McConnell’s office, and that he had helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on federal grants of particular significance to McConnell.

“These allegations were first raised by left wing advocacy groups and hashed out in the media, and the department has previously fully responded to them. They are politically motivated and intended to waste time. While the Department will always be cooperative and responsive to appropriate requests, DOT looks forward to a prompt and final resolution of these questions,” a DOT spokesman told The Trucker Tuesday.

“Allegations included the steering of discretionary grants to fund these projects,” DeFazio wrote.  “I would expect Secretary Chao to meet with individuals from her home state more regularly than other states, but the sheer volume of meetings with local officials from Kentucky when compared to meetings with local officials from the rest of the country creates an appearance of favoritism that is troubling.  Even more troubling is the fact that McConnell’s campaign touted the Politico article on social media saying, ‘Mitch McConnell is a Kentucky Asset.’”

DeFazio said news reports have also raised questions about Chao’s adherence to her federal ethics agreement in which she agreed to divest certain assets to prevent her personal finances from creating conflicts of interest.

In particular, it has been reported that the secretary retained stock in Vulcan Materials, a stone and asphalt producer, as opposed to accepting a cash payment for her stock options in the company, as provided for in her ethics agreement.

 

 

 

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